DALLAS — Stephanie Roman is a recent University of Texas at Austin graduate, and through all four years two things have gone through the journey alongside her: a laptop and her luggage.
In 2017, she was one of more than 100 high school seniors who received a luggage from Puede Network.
The organization, which focuses on empowering the youth through educational programming and athletics, launched its ninth-annual luggage drive this month.
“I hope that every time that they do look at their luggage, if anything, they remember there’s people that believe in them,” said Adan Gonzalez, the founder of Puede Network.
Roman’s college counselors at Skyline High School nominated her to be a recipient of the luggage drive. She said receiving the luggage was very meaningful - it showed her that someone was investing in her future, as the first woman in her family to attend college.
“It is really important to invest in people, especially when you’re the first,” Roman said.
Gonzalez was a first-generation college student himself, when he held the first luggage drive in 2012 and launched Puede Network. His organization has provided luggage to 1,350 students in Dallas.
He recalled his own experience: Georgetown-bound on a full-ride scholarship, but unable to pay the overweight baggage fee at the airport. He was forced to place his items into trash bags.
“I didn’t see it as I didn’t have anything, I just remember closing my eyes and saying, ‘God please help me so one day I can help others,'” Gonzalez explained.
The Oak Cliff native said that moment in his life is what has motivates the luggage drive. He said he hopes that recipients see their luggage as a reminder that they can tackle whatever obstacles are presented to them and that there are people rooting for their success.
Meanwhile, Roman graduated this past weekend with a degree in social work. In her four years at UT, she traveled to New York, Germany and studied abroad in South Africa. She said those experiences have made her a different person.
“I’ve gone so far, because people have believed in me and invested in me,” she said, adding that she hopes to help others just as she was helped along her journey.
Puede Network will accept monetary donations or luggage donations through the end of July. The organization receives recommendations for recipients from teachers, counselors and parents. The only requirement is the student will reside in a dormitory or an apartment.